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Red Deer Vipers look to improve in second half of HJHL season

Vipers are back in action in January
The Red Deer Vipers celebrate the first goal of the game against the Rocky Rams earlier this season at Servus Arena. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

The Red Deer Vipers are facing an uphill battle at the halfway point of Junior B hockey season.

With a month and a half left in the regular season, the Vipers are fourth in the North Division of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) with a record of 8-15-2.

However, according to general manager Dale Scott, their season has gone as expected.

“It’s obviously been a little disappointing in terms of where we sit today in the standings but it’s to be expected,” Scott said. “We didn’t expect to not have any fourth years and we only have a few third-year players with us.

“We have a very young team which isn’t a bad thing but in this league, experience is what very successful teams have and it takes time for young players to adjust to this league coming out of midget AA or AAA.”

Management isn’t disappointed in the players and is looking forward to the second half of the season. With 13 games remaining they are striving to improve their play ahead of the playoffs.

Consistency will be key to righting the ship before the last game of the regular season on Feb. 11, and with the Ponoka Stampeders taking the season off, all 12 teams will make the postseason.

“We’ll have a very good game and then we won’t bring that same effort into our next game and kind of fall off the map,” he said.

“I think it’s more about finding that consistency in our effort. We tend to take a lot of chances for some reason so we need to cut down on the mental mistakes that we’re making.”

On the defensive end, Scott said they’re showing improvement and will rely on that part of their game as they fine-tune their squad.

Each team must have their rosters finalized by Jan. 10, 2023, with a maximum of 23 players on each squad. The Vipers currently have 21 players and have room for two more players to add before the HJHL’s deadline if there are players available.

If possible, the Vipers will look to add more scoring to the forward group and add to their defenceman group.

“It’s really just what’s available or who’s available and if they can help us either on the scoring end or just on the defensive play,” he explained.

Forward Andrew Wallace has led the way for Red Deer on the scoring end with 16 goals and 13 assists for 29 points, which is 18th best in the league. Kyle Wallace is right behind him with 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 23 games.

In the net, goaltender Josh Hilts has played 19 games between the pipes posting 3.78 goals against average and a .895 save percentage. Rookie Tyler Kohut has filled in for nine games with a 5.18 GAA and .854 save percentage. Kohut is in the process of learning what it takes to be a starting goaltender and in Scott’s opinion, there is no one better to learn from than Hilts.

“Both Josh and Tyler have done phenomenally,” he said.

“Hilts is our number one and he has gone beyond expectations in net for us just playing behind a younger team trying to learn the defensive side of the game. We’ve relied on Josh to bail us out in a few games and situations where we’ve had defensive breakdowns.”

The Vipers coaching staff are all new to the league this year and with Fred Jones leading the way as head coach, Scott said it has been an adjustment for all four stepping into those roles.

“It’s been a learning curve for the coaching staff as well but I’m happy with where we’re at. I’m seeing progression in the team, in the staff, and I know we’re on the right track moving forward,” Scott added.

The Vipers will play their next game at home on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, at 8 p.m. at Servus Arena.

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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